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INFO   :::  Projects > Archives > The Helsinki Charter: Promoting Serbia's Europeanization > HC No. 145-146 > Text



Serbia's European Prospects


By Vladimir Gligorov

When could Serbia possibly accede to the European Union? With adequate political will the process of accession should be rounded off by a full-fledged membership in 2020. And what does an adequate political will imply?

To find out the answer one should compare Serbia with the countries of Middle and East Europe that acceded EU in 2004 and 2007, as well as with those that have still not like itself. Take any of the newly admitted EU member-states and you will see that neither their political parties nor citizens have had any doubts about the advantages of membership. Their motives were not milk and honey, as argued by Euroskeptics, but simple - though essential - public and private interests. For them, membership of EU was a way towards security, stability that implied irrevocable democracy and rule of law, and economic prosperity that would come faster than should they remain outside the Union. Why is the later important? Because modernization of economic institutions and factors of production would hardly be sustainable with any of the versions of the policy of reliance on one's own powers and resources, that is of protectionist development.

This is not meant as an argument that no one and nowhere could make a progress and develop outside the European Union. This is about a realistic and rational assessment of a country's political and economic resources, and of the risks entailed in some other options. Almost all the countries of Middle Europe were fully aware that EU accession implied both short-term and long-term spending and concessions. After all, they were aware that they had to submit a part of their sovereignties to the political community in which the influence of individual countries is small. This particularly refers to small and inadequately developed countries such as those of Middle and East Europe, and of the Balkans in particular. So, this is all about a rational choice between attainable alternatives. Political will is unquestionable if that choice is made by the great majority of citizens and if it is no apt to change - meaning that is changes not with change of the parties in power or short-term interests of any social group or even a handful of powerful individuals.

Such political will was non-existent in most ex-Yugoslav countries. It was non-existent in late 1980s, let alone in 1990s. Serbia has not made this political choice yet as there has been no political will. Therefore, one cannot tell with certainty that Serbia can become a member-state by 2020 the more so since the coming decade will be less favorable than the previous two - for, to all appearances, economic recovery of the European Union itself will be slow and thorny. Hence, the Union will be stricter in its criteria for accession, which will be an extra trial of the political will of all the countries aspiring towards membership.

Why is it that Serbia lacks political will? The answer is quite simple - at the time of ex-Yugoslavia's disintegration Serbia made quite a different choice and nowadays the interests of those who advocated such policy or capitalized on it are still strong. And there are also generations that have emerged over the past twenty-odd years, which made their political and professional choice under the assumption that the system and the policy established twenty years ago would remain forever. Therefore, there is no consensus on the advantages of EU membership, let alone on the expenditures entailed in the attainment of that goal. Indicators of such state of affairs are unrealistic plans for alternatives to EU that have been circulating in the public sphere. Of course, there is always an alternative to EU. Serbia is already in such alternative status, having made the same choice as other countries have made about membership of EU. In their case, that was about a reasonable and rational choice made in full awareness about the advantages and expenditures of any possible decision. Serbia, however, lacks the political will for making any choice whatsoever because the balance of powers is such that the current situation, no matter how unfavorable, is still seen as more acceptable than the changes unavoidable in the process of accession and eventually membership of EU.

What may such circumstances produce? Over the past couple of years EU has changed its strategy for Serbia (though not for other countries in the Balkans with prospects for membership). This change can be summed up in the following phrase: enticement replaced conditioning. As it seems, EU takes that Serbia will manifest its aspiration towards membership by starting to meet preconditions and then making actual progress towards EU, particularly after the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice. So, EU policy is the one that speeds up the process of integration and thus augments Serbia's political will for integration. The idea behind the policy is that Serbia's progress towards EU would be such that it would cost it too much to end it or give it up.

More precisely, the policy is the following: to make a positive decision on Serbia's EU candidacy by the end of 2011 and hint that the association negotiations will start as soon as Serbia fulfills certain conditions. Consequently, EU reasons, membership of EU would be no more disputable in the next parliamentary and subsequent presidential elections. Any party, coalition or person coming to power after next electoral cycle would realize that canceling or postponing negotiations with EU, or any change of the established relationship is too risky and expensive. So, negotiations would start after the elections, while the political will for their successful finalization should be stronger and stronger as they proceed and as the moment of accession comes closer. In other words, attractiveness of EU should be realized and learned through negotiations on accession given that political consensus has not been reached before the startup of negotiations.

What will be the implications of that policy until the process is finalized? This greatly depends on the time it would take for the political will to be formed and on the conditions in which the entire process proceeds. It should be noted that the strategy has changed but not the conditions that need to be fulfilled to attain the goal. On the contrary, conditions will be stricter in practice but will not change. At the beginning of this process, therefore, there is always a risk that one or both parties realize that the enticement strategy produces not desirable results. Unlike the processes that firstly imply decision-making, then negotiations and finally membership, the case of Serbia implies simultaneous fulfillment of conditions and strengthening of the political will. This leaves much room for political uncertainties or misunderstandings. Serbia may keep putting off its obligations because of inadequate political will. In such case, some of EU member-states may come to the conclusion that the policy needs to be changed and Serbia requested to fulfill its obligations before resumption of the process. Or, it may take the process as dragging despite the fact that conditions are being fulfilled, which may negatively affect the establishment of the political will about the advantage of the entire enterprise. Of course, as things proceed abandoning the goal or making a political decision about its alternative will be harder and costlier. So one may expect accession nearing its end at the pace negotiations make progress - because the political will that the accession is both in public and private interest will grow stronger and stronger.

From that perspective, how realistic is the prognosis for Serbia's full-fledged membership of EU in early 2020? The prognosis is rather optimistic in a way. From a purely practical angle, negotiations can hardly be finalized and all the obligations fulfilled in less than 5-6 years. It is more realistic to expect the process to take longer. But when one comes to technicalities it means that all political issues are solved and leave no dilemma. This is not the case with Serbia. Two crucial political decisions it still has to make are support to the strengthening of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a state and a future EU member, and normalization of relations with Kosovo. The later implies a mode of recognition of the state of Kosovo that makes it possible for both states, Serbia and Kosovo, to join European Union. These are two main points on which interests and policies in Serbia clash and result in a non-existent political will for EU but also for some alternative strategy.

That's how things stand, more or less. The present strategy for Serbia is that is should opt for EU membership through the process of association and negotiations with EU. Will that take ten years, longer or less depends on political decisions. In other words, everything depends on the pace of the establishment of the political will that would replace the political strategy opted for at the time of ex-Yugoslavia's disintegration.



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